To Da Loo
Even the most insulated American on a visit to the Emerald Isle, or indeed nearly anywhere on the European continent eventually will have to experience the bathroom. It easily can be one of the most intimidating rooms in the house and holds center stage for many of the most harrowing tales of adventure and intrepidity by travelers.
Do not confuse the “toilet” with the “bathroom.” Unlike the United States, these are not necessarily interchangeable terms, though globalization has begun to change that. For one, the handle of a toilet has a mildly disorienting habit of being on the right-hand side rather than the left. It provides a terrific flow of water that swooshes into oblivion whatever quantity of refuse is dumped into it. Unhampered by sissy government regulations on how much water you can use to swirl away yesterday’s curry, Irish toilets give a satisfying flush, using enough water to hydrate a small drought-stricken African village. When you flush the toilet, it stays flushed.
The sink poses more of a challenge. Hot and cold taps are placed according to whatever whim tickled the fancy of the plumber that day. In older houses this isn’t much of a problem. Either tap will deliver a stream of icy cold water only. If you prefer hot water, you may have to wait for most of the day before it reaches the sink. Also, it isn’t necessarily available on demand. Many homes have an immersion heater that must be switched on to get hot water. This is often supplemented from a tank behind the fireplace which delivers water to the radiators, as well as to the hot taps. Further fun can be had with those sinks that have hot and cold water taps. Trying to find a balance between the scalding water on one side and the frigid arctic runoff in the other is a balancing exercise in the laws of averages.
When I went to take a shower, I was somewhat alarmed to note the absence of a shower curtain. How careful would I have to be to keep water from splashing all over the floor? My fears were quickly allayed. Turning on the shower produced a trickle of water from the shower head. I have seen leaky faucets with a greater flow of water. As I labored to achieve a workable dampness, it occurred to me that a shower curtain would be just a superfluous ornament.
All this, though, happened after I had interpreted the cryptic markings on the showering device itself. Before any dribble of water comes from the showerhead, a machine heats the water as it enters the showerhead. A temperature gauge and a simple on-off switch would be helpful at this point. For some reason I haven’t fathomed, the clever Irish generally hide the one switch that actually causes electricity to become available to the heating element. This well-concealed switch often masquerades as a string suspended from the ceiling, or a button on the outside of the bathroom (always fun to find after you’re butt-naked). Rest assured, it will never be clearly marked. Obscurity on proper shower operations is a native collective joke and the location of the Secret Switch provides a more subtle hilarity.
Irish wit and wisdom is apparent in every aspect of life – in the literary works of Joyce, Keane and Wilde, in its beautiful music, in its clever phrases bantered about in conversation, and in the odd juxtapositioning of the ultramodern built right alongside the ancient. In case you missed any of that, they have conveniently afforded everyone a working demonstration of the quirky Irish psyche in every trip to the loo.